Social media controversy over Bernard the Roughneck appearance led to death threats, usual extreme language
Ok, stop piling on Bernard the Roughneck. Yes, he really is a rig worker, not an actor, and putting a human face on an oil and gas industry PR campaign is a good thing. That said, I’m still convinced the campaign strategy itself is the wrong one.
The 32-year old Bernard, whose last name is Hancock and who has been working in the industry on and off for 10 years, appeared with representatives of the Canadian Association of Oilfield Drilling Contractors in Ottawa Tuesday to present an e-petition with 34,537 signatures to Parliament “calling upon the federal government to vocally support the oil and gas industry, new pipelines across Canada, and hundreds of thousands of employed and unemployed oil workers.”
Mark Scholz, president of the association, says that in the past industry has been too focused on data and science – important stuff, but not likely to engage the average Canadian, who just wants to know the furnace comes on during a cold January night and there is gasoline for the car to get the kids to hockey practice.
“We’re actually showing Canadians for the first time an individual who represents the industry very well. I think Bernard resonated with many Canadians at putting a human face to this industry,” he said in an interview.
Scholz is probably right. Hancock’s a personable guy and cuts a striking figure with his Weird Al Yankovic-style hair jutting from beneath his hardhat.
Hancock spoke at the CAODC press conference, though he says “mainstream media” hasn’t yet warmed to him. He first came to the Canadian public’s attention after a Rebel Media video interview with him garnered 600,000 views. Regular readers know I am a vocal critic of Ezra Levant and his pseudo-news activism; Hancock’s close association with the former Sun News Network buffoon and noted libelist is a black mark, in my opinion.
Levant is a rabid booster of the oil and gas industry who appeals to a narrow group of Canadians on the extreme right of the political spectrum. He is the booster equivalent of the equally rabid eco-activists on the extreme left of the political spectrum.
Moderate Canadians – the kind the oil and gas industry needs to appeal to – have little interest in either Rebel Media or anti-industry zealots.
But Hancock is a passionate advocate for the industry he joined after college to pay the $40,000 he borrowed for school and he makes the point that the hundreds of thousands of people employed in some aspect of the Alberta business are just hard working folks with bills to pay.
As long as he sticks to that script and mutes the Rebel Media-style politics, on full display during our interview, Canadians will probably warm to him.
Governments, not so much. But that isn’t Hancock’s fault.
The industry, including the CAODC, seriously needs to rethink its demand that the Canadian Government become a cheerleader for pipelines and the oil sands.
That approach is right out of the Stephen Harper playbook, which failed to get the ball into the end zone despite 10 years of desperate lobbying and championing.
More importantly, the Canadian government is the constitutionally mandated authority over inter-provincial pipelines. The Feds oversee the National Energy Board, the industry regulator, and provide the final consent for pipeline projects.
Ottawa must take into account many different interests and points of view, not just industry’s or Alberta’s, before it makes a decision.
Playing the Harper game would likely undermine the legitimacy of a decision to approve Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion in December or TransCanada’s Energy East in 2019.
And, frankly, the Justin Trudeau Government has provided all the public support it needs to provide.
Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr is on record as saying “The Prime Minister has said many times that it’s a major responsibility of the Government of Canada to move our natural resources to market sustainably. That’s our objective…You can quote the Prime Minister from the global conference in Vancouver when he said that there’s no contradiction in building wind turbines and pipelines, we need both.”
That’s more than enough cheerleading for any industry. Scholz and other industry leaders should accept it and move on.
To not move on beyond the shallow boosterism commonly associated with pipelines and the oil sands invites more of the reaction seen on social media over the past two days, led by Edmonton’s social media doyen Kathleen Smith, who thought the Bernard the Roughneck trope was overwrought and just more hype. Smith’s threads led to a lively dissing – some of which was blatantly partisan – of Hancock, who eventually joined in the fray to defend himself.
If only the controversy had died there. Smith says she received an “inbox full” of death threats. Industry booster group threads certainly contained some vile comments, and a number that crossed the line, in my reading of them.
And that sordid little hot mess illustrates my argument that industry and Bernard the Roughneck need to polish the rough edges off the message and shoot for the middle, where 60 to 70 cent of Canadians reside on most issues.
That’s the audience – not the eco-activists or the boosters – the Trudeau Government needs to believe is supportive of pipelines and the oil sands.
And that’s the audience Bernard the Roughneck needs to appeal to.
We’ll wait and see.